As a kid my dad would regale me with stories regarding the first computer and how it was the “size of the house”. I laughed because growing up in the 80s I was accustom to the array of modern technology littered around my house: a Sony Walkman, a Nintento, even a TV with a remote. But, as I’m sure most of us agree, we can all laugh at those “modern technologies” now. Especially when we’re faced with what we currently have.
For the “dot com generation” we have been witness to the evolution of modern technological marvels, and seen how these “marvels” have changed our lives at home and abroad. And I, for one, love it.
My Samsung Tablet is great, and so is my bad-ass Samsung Smart TV (hey, I lived in Korea for a long time, so I’m biased towards a certain brand), but recently something has been bugging me: I am far too reliant upon technology. And it’s not just me who is bugged by this. I’ve been reading about this a lot over the past few weeks and how we’re not as “smart” as we used to be. And quite frankly it makes sense.
Pre-Internet days at home
Remember when you were a kid and you didn’t know something, what would you do? I know I’d ask my mum or dad, and they’d either educate me or tell me to go and “look it up” – I had this crappy encyclopedia series as a kid, most of which is probably discredited now – and hopefully I’d get my answer. Other than that, how else would you get an answer?
It must seem like madness to those of you that grew up with Google and Wikipedia, but (and I’m racking my brains to think of any other methods) that’s how it was. Even spellings. If you didn’t know how to spell something, you’d get a dictionary. When is the last time anyone opened up a dictionary? My teacher would teach us to learn new words by using the Thesaurus. And when is the last time anyone used that?
What do you do now when you don’t know how to spell something? If you’re anything like me you “kind of” spell it in Google, then let Google ask you “did you mean…” right? And like magic you have your word. Easy as that. Does it sink in though, so you can spell it again later? Nope. You just repeat the above method again and again. Although for words like “inconvenience” and “superfragilisticexpialidocious” I think Google or no-Google, I’d have to look that up.
One of the most iconic words of our time is “smart”, and we have become inundated, and somewhat become used to, this prefix. We have “smart cars”, “smart cities”, even “smart fridges” (I know!), and the more commonly used “smartphone”, which both Apple and Samsung have created incredible technologies based around this word. But does anyone remember the world’s first “smartphone”…?
This is credited to Ericsson (pre-Sony takeover), who in 1997 released the GS 88 “Penelope” device. Billed as more than just a “passive tool” – to make and receive calls – the GS 88 offered email, SMS, and Internet, all of which are the norm for today’s regular cellphone, nevermind our smartphones. But as a result of this, is it us that are becoming more smart or just the technology?
Michael Jones, Google’s Chief Technology Advocate (surely, that’s not a real title?), recently made this bold statement:
“Effectively, people are about 20 IQ points smarter now because of Google Search and Maps. They don’t give Google credit for it, which is fine; they think they’re smarter, because they can rely on these tools.”
Ahem…no Michael, no. You can’t argue that resorting to Google when we don’t know something makes us smarter. Yes, it’s easier and quicker to get an answer, but by relying upon “these tools” we no longer have a natural ability to seek out information. Instead it is making us, well for want of a better word, dumber.
Fragility vs Antifragility
In Nassim Nicholas Taleb 2012 book, Antifragile he writes about the dissecting of society into 2 social systems. There is a “fragile system” which is easily broken by unexpected shocks or irregularity; and there is an “antifragile system” where society thrives on uncertainty and won’t crash due to shocks or irregularities.
Apparently, we, the people are “antifragile” by nature and our best qualities lie in the fact that we can deal with stress, disorder, and believe it or not uncertainty. When we remove ourselves from this and place ourselves into a “fragile system”, i.e. use technology to provide us the certainty and ease we crave, this does nothing but damage to us.
So, what would happen tomorrow if everything we have come to rely upon suddenly came crashing down? Say your cellphone no longer worked. What would you do? Go find a phone booth, maybe? Do they still exist? If they do, then I haven’t a clue where the nearest one is. Therefore, if everything did come crashing down tomorrow, and I wanted to make a phone call, then I wouldn’t even be able to Google “closest phone booth”.
Quite honestly, I don’t believe this will ever happen – well, not in my lifetime – but if we continue down this path of a “fragile system” then yes we’ll quite possibly live “easier” and “less stressful” lives (who doesn’t want that?), because we’ll always be reassured by certainty. BUT, and that is a big but, don’t you miss that feeling of – hmmm, I’d compare it to joy – when you figure things out for yourself? I know I do.